Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On Representation and Related Things

I had somebody ask me quite nicely for clarification about something I said about not being very comfortable writing black people yet.

They seemed to think I was implying people should stay within their comfort zone. I'm going to write something similar here to my response to them.

1. You can't represent every single aspect of humanity in your main character or characters. Jacqueline Koyanagi makes a good attempt in Ascension, but even if you're doing an ensemble cast - you can't cover everything in one work. So, don't try. If you try too hard you will end up doing what I call "checklisting" - marking off whether you've got a gay person or a disabled person or an Asian person or whatever. This is trying too hard and it ends up klutzy.

2. Please, please don't try to represent everyone in a short story. Short stories should be an idea. One. Single. Idea.

3. On the other hand, when building a world, make sure diversity exists in it. Don't whitewash the future - that actually makes people afraid their descendants won't survive. Please don't have only one ethnicity in your secondary fantasy world (unless there's some really good worldbuilding reason for it - such as a world with only one climate zone, a small human enclave, etc). This doesn't just go for your humans - how about having your humanoids have racial groups too? What about tropical elves? Do dwarves from the far northern mountains have different traditions from those in the temperate zone? Apart from any issues with representation, this will make your worldbuilding better.

4. DO go outside your comfort zone. I'm not entirely comfortable writing black characters yet. That doesn't mean I don't try.

5. If you are bad at writing a certain group and know it - then how about bringing your readers' attention to other authors that might be better at it? The example I used is that there's some great work being done in Afrofuturism right now - but I wouldn't want to try it myself. I know more about Africa than the average clueless white person, but I would have to spend a lot of time on research before trying to set a story there.